SAN FRANCISCO (06/15/2000) - Online financial giant Charles Schwab & Co. has launched a brokerage service accessible via devices equipped with wireless network access capabilities.
The PocketBroker service will be available to Schwab's wealthiest customers, via Palm Inc.'s handhelds and Research in Motion Ltd.'s RIM two-way pagers and Internet mobile phones.
To create the new service, Schwab took parts of a Java-based customer service application and added features to adapt it for use by customers. The actual client program is written in C and deployed either on Palm OS or RIM devices.
The RIM application is in beta testing.
Schwab's Java Object Services group is evaluating the Java K Virtual Machine for use as the foundation for the client in the future, says Bharat Patel, the firm's managing director of wireless solutions.
The client code was written by Aether Systems Inc., a key partner for Schwab in this project. Aether forges the relationships with wireless carriers across the country to ensure that all PocketBroker customers have seamless access to the service. These users have a Palm handheld fitted with a wireless modem. Once they dial up the carrier service, users connect first to software running on servers hosted by Aether. The servers then connect to Schwab servers, which run middleware that works with back-end trading applications and databases.
Schwab's middleware is based on the Common Object Request Broker Architecture, a standard that lets companies integrate object-oriented midtier applications with back-end legacy applications. Java is used to write this middleware.
PocketBroker customers pay $5 per month for unlimited airtime. Trades start at $29.95 each and prices drop based on the number of trades.
To use the service, customers log on using a Palm device fitted with a wireless modem, supplied by Aether. Starting the application supplies the Aether middleware with the customer's account data, all protected using Certicom's encryption software.
Customers then work with the PocketBroker interface to set "Quick Alerts," which notify them when a stock reaches a certain price. Users can see that information, tap on the trading application with the Palm stylus, view the trading screen and execute a buy or sell.
The device will locally cache an array of data that doesn't change often. Users can refresh this data at any time with a single tap of the stylus.
The user interface was carefully designed to be simple, very similar in functions and features to what Schwab customers are used to when trading from a PC-based Web browser, Patel says.
Wireless access to Schwab's services is increasingly important, especially in overseas markets, he says. The company currently has a pilot program in Hong Kong, letting some customers access trading information via cell phones that use Wireless Access Protocol and screen displays written in Wireless Markup Language.